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Cornelius Nepos: Lives of Eminent Commanders (1886)

pp. 305-450.

Translated by the Rev. John Selby Watson, MA


1. Miltiades.

2. Themistocles.

3. Aristides.

4. Pausanias.

5. Cimon.

6. Lysander.

7. Alcibiades.

8. Thrasybulus.

9. Conon.

10. Dion.

11. Iphicrates.

12. Chabrias.

13. Timotheus.

14. Datames.

15. Epaminondas.

16. Pelopidas.

17. Agesilaus.

18. Eumenes.

19. Phocion.

20. Timoleon.

21. Of Kings.

22. Hamilcar.

23. Hannibal.

24. Marcus Porcius Cato.  From the second book of Cornelius Nepos.

25. Titus Pomponius Atticus.



Iphicrates eminent for skill in military discipline, I.----His acts in Thrace, at Corinth, against the Lacedaemonians, in Egypt, and against Epaminondas, II.----His abilities and character, III.

I. IPHICRATES of Athens has become renowned, not so much for the greatness of his exploits, as for his knowledge of military tactics; for he was such a leader, that he was not only comparable to the first commanders of his own time, but no one even of the older generals could be set above him. He was much engaged in the field; he often had. the command of armies; he never miscarried in an undertaking by his own fault; he was always eminent for invention, and such was his excellence in it, that he not only introduced much that was new into the military art, but made many improvements in what existed before. He altered the arms of the infantry; for whereas, before he became a commander, they used very large shields, short spears, and small swords, he, on the contrary, introduced the pelta instead of the parma 106 (from which the infantry were afterwards called peltastae), that they might be more active in movements and encounters; he doubled the length of the spear, and made the swords also longer. He likewise changed the character of their cuirasses, and gave them linen ones instead of those of chain-mail and brass; a change by which he rendered the soldiers more active; for, |359 diminishing the weight, he provided what would equally protect the body, and be light.

II. He made war upon the Thracians, and restored Seuthes, the ally of the Athenians, to his throne. At Corinth 107 he commanded the army with so much strictness, that no troops in Greece were ever better disciplined, or more obedient to the orders of their leader; and he brought them to such a habit, that when the signal for battle was given them by their general, they would stand so regularly drawn up, without any trouble on the part of the commander, that they seemed to have been severally posted by the most skilful captain. With this army he cut off a mora 108 of the Lacedaemonians; an exploit which was highly celebrated through all Greece. In this war, too, he defeated all their forces a second time, by which success he obtained great glory.

Artaxerxes, when he had resolved to make war upon the king of Egypt, 109 asked the Athenians to allow Iphicrates to be his general, that he might place him at the head of his army of mercenaries, the number of whom was twelve thousand. This force he so instructed in all military discipline, that as certain Roman soldiers were formerly called Fabians,110 so the Iphicrateans were in the highest repute among the Greeks.

Going afterwards to the relief of the Lacedaemonians, he |360 checked the efforts of Epaminondas; for, had not he been drawing near,111 the Thebans would not have retreated from Sparta until they had taken and destroyed it by fire.

III. He was a man of large mind and large body, and of an appearance indicating the commander so that by his very look he inspired every one with admiration of him. But in action he was too remiss, and too impatient of continued exertion, as Theopompus has recorded. Yet he was a good citizen, and a person of very honourable feelings, as he showed, not only in other transactions, but also in protecting the children of Amyntas 112 the Macedonian; for Eurydice, the mother of Perdiccas and Philip, fled with these two boys, after the death of Amyntas, to Iphicrates, and was secure under his power. He lived to a good old age, with the feelings of his countrymen well affected towards him.

He was once brought to trial for his life, at the time of the Social war, 113 together with Timotheus, and was acquitted.

He left a son named Menestheus, whom he had by a Thracian woman, the daughter of King Cotys. When this son was asked whether he had more regard for his father or his mother, he replied, "For his mother." As this answer appeared strange to all who heard it, he added, "I do so with justice; for my father, as far as was in his power, made me a Thracian, but my mother, as far as she could, made me an Athenian." |361 


Chabrias becomes celebrated for a new mode of fighting, I.----His acts in Egypt and Cyprus; his command of the Egyptian fleet, II.----His recal; he lived but little at home in consequence of the envious feelings of his countrymen, III.----He is killed in the Social war, IV.

I. CHABRIAS the Athenian was also numbered among the most eminent generals, and performed many acts worthy or record. But of these the most famous is his manoeuvre in the battle which he fought near Thebes, when he had gone to the relief of the Boeotians; for in that engagement, when the great general Agesilaus felt sure of victory, and the mercenary troops had been put to flight by him, Chabrias forbade the rest of his phalanx 114 to quit their ground, and instructed them to receive the attack of the enemy with the knee placed firmly against the shield, and the spear stretched out. Agesilaus, observing this new plan, did not dare to advance, and called off his men, as they were rushing forward, with sound of trumpet. This device was so extolled by fame throughout Greece, that Chabrias chose to have the statue, which was erected to him at the public charge by the Athenians in the forum, made in that posture. Hence it happened that wrestlers, and other candidates for public applause,115 adopted, in the erection of their statues, those postures in which they had gained a victory.

II. Chabrias also, when he was general of the Athenians, carried on many wars in Europe; and he engaged in one in Egypt of his own accord; for setting out to assist Nectanabis, 116 he secured him the throne. He performed a similar exploit in Cyprus, but he was then publicly sent to support Evagoras; nor did he return from thence till he had conquered the whole island; from which achievement the Athenians obtained great glory.

In the meantime a war broke out between the Egyptians and Persians, when the Athenians formed an alliance with |362 Artaxerxes, and the Lacedaemonians with the Egyptians, from whom their king Agesilaus received a large share of spoil.117 Chabrias, seeing Agesilaus's good fortune, and thinking himself in no respect inferior to him, set out to assist them of his own accord, and took the command of the Egyptian fleet, while Agesilaus held that of the land forces.

III. In consequence, the officers of the king of Persia sent deputies to Athens, to complain that Chabrias was warring against their king on the side of the Egyptians. The Athenians then prescribed a certain day to Chabrias, before which if he did not return home, they declared that they would condemn him to die. On receiving this communication he returned to Athens; but did not stay there longer than was necessary; for he did not willingly continue under the eyes of his countrymen, as he was accustomed to live splendidly, and to indulge himself too freely to be able to escape the envy of the populace. For this is a common fault in great and free states, that envy is the attendant on glory, and that the people willingly detract from those whom they see raised above others; nor do the poor contemplate with patience the lot of others who are grown rich. Chabrias, therefore, when he could, was generally away from home. Nor was he the only one that willingly absented himself from Athens, but almost all their great men did the same, for they thought that they should be as far removed from envy as they were distant from their native country. Conon, in consequence, lived very much in Cyprus, Iphicrates in Thrace, Timotheus in Lesbos, Chares at Sigeum. Chares, indeed, differed from the others in conduct and character, but was nevertheless both distinguished and powerful at Athens. |363 

IV. Chabrias lost his life in the Social war,118 in the following manner. The Athenians were besieging Chios; Chabrias was on board the fleet as a private man, but had more influence than all who were in command; and the soldiers looked up to him more than to those who were over them. This circumstance hastened his death; for while he was anxious to be the first to enter the harbour, and ordered the captain to steer the vessel towards it, he was the occasion of his own death, since, after he had made his way into it, the other ships did not follow. Upon which, being surrounded by a body of the enemy, his ship, while he was fighting with the utmost bravery, was struck with the beak of one of the enemy's vessels, and began to sink. Though he might have escaped from the danger, if he had cast himself into the sea, for the fleet of the Athenians was at hand to take him up as he swam, he chose rather to die, than to throw away his arms and abandon the vessel in which he had sailed. The others would not act in a similar manner, but gained a place of safety by swimming. He, on the other hand, thinking an honourable death preferable to a dishonourable life, was killed with the weapons of the enemy, while he was fighting hand to hand with them.

106.  * Peltam pro parmâ fecit.] The pelta, was smaller than the parma, but both were smaller than the clypeus.----Bos.

107.  * Apud Corinthum.] In the war generally called the Corinthian war, carried on by the Athenians, Thebans, and Argives, against the Lacedaemonians. See Diod. Sic. xiv. 86; Xen. Hell. iv. 4.

108. † From Xenophon, de Rep. Lacedaem., we learn that the mora consisted of 400 men; for it had four lochagi and eight pentecosteres.----Fischer. This seems to have been the regular and original number appointed by Lycurgus, but it varied afterwards according to times and circumstances. In the time of Xenophon (Hell. iv. 5) it appears to have consisted usually of 600. At other times it contained five, seven, or nine hundred. See Plutarch. Pelop. c. 17; Thucyd. v. 68, ibique Schol. Smith's Dict. of G. and R. Ant. art. Army, Greek.

109. † His name was Acoris; he had assisted Evagoras of Cyprus against Artaxerxes Mnemon. See Diod. Sic. xv. 29. He appears to have been the immediate predecessor of Nectanebis.

110.  § Fabiani.] If the Roman soldiers were used to be called Fabians, which is an account given by none but our author, that I know of, it was occasioned by the gallantry of the Fabian family, that undertook to manage the war against the Vejentes by themselves, and were cut off, 300 of them in one battle.----Clarke. Others think that the name must have been derived from Fabius Cunctator. None of the better commentators say anything on the point.

111.  * Nisi ejus adventus appropinquasset.] "Unless his approach, had been drawing near."

112. † The father of Philip, and grandfather of Alexander the Great. "This subject is more fully noticed by Aeschines de Fals. Leg. haud longe à principio."-----Bos. See Justin, vii. 4.

113. ‡ Bella Sociali.] A war in which Byzantium, Rhodes, Chios, and Cos leagued themselves against the Athenians, from their alliance with whom they had revolted. See Diod. Sic. xv. 78; xvi. 7, Ferizon. ad Aelian. Var. Hist. ii. 10. Comp. Life of Chabrias, c. 4.

114.  * Phalanx is here used as a general term for a body of troops in close array.

115. † Artifices.] This word is here used in a very comprehensive sense, including actors, musicians, and every other kind of public exhibitors.

116. ‡ Often written Nectanebis. "Diodorus Siculus has it either Nektenabw_j or Nektanebw&j."----Bos.

117.  * A quitus magnas proedas Agesilaus rex eorum faciebat.] Attempts to interpret this passage have much exercised the ingenuity of the learned. Heusinger would have à quibus to signify "on whose side," or the same as pro quibus, but this Van Staveren justly rejects, and I, as well as he and Schmieder, doubt whether pro aliquo proedam facere can be regarded as good Latin. . . . For myself, I know not what to make of the passage, unless we receive the cautious interpretation of Harles, Ithius, and Bremi, who understand proedam in a large or metaphorical sense for gain, presents, or a large sum of money, which Agesilaus either received from the Egyptians by agreement, or exacted from them, so that it might not improperly be regarded as proeda. Concerning the signification of this word, see Heyne ad Tibull. ii. 3, 38.----Fischer.

118.  * See Life of Iphicrates, c. 3.

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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